It is common to assimilate Marx’s and Spinoza’s conceptions of democracy. In this chapter, I assess the relation between Marx’s early idea of “true democracy” and Spinozist democracy, both the historical influence and the theoretical affinity. Drawing on Marx’s student notebooks on Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, I show there was a historical influence. However, at the theoretical level, I argue that a sharp distinction must be drawn. Philosophically, Spinoza’s commitment to understanding politics through real concrete powers does not support with Marx’s (...) anti-institutional conception of true democracy. And as a matter of social theory, the gap between civil society and the state which so troubles Marx is a development of modernity that has not entered Spinoza's premodern field of view. Marx’s true democracy was also influenced by his study of Rousseau, and theoretically, it is just as close if not closer to Rousseau as to Spinoza. (shrink)
The “black page” in Spinoza’s Political Treatise has been much discussed and interpreted. These can be roughly divided into three groups: Approaches that see the “black page” as an extension of Spinoza’s theory of the passions and imagination; approaches that maintain that Spinoza excluded women from politics not because of their innate weaknesses but because of their social conditions; approaches that maintain that he excluded women because he saw them as weaker beings, but this contradicts his certain accounts, especially in (...) the Ethics. In this paper, I take the latter view. My contribution is to argue that this contradiction is not unique to the Ethics. I pursue my reading along two lines, one ontological and one political. In the first, I focus on the continuity between the Ethics and the Political Treatise and show that the “black page” is also inconsistent with the ontology and methodology of the Political Treatise itself. In the second, I argue that the exclusion of women also contradicts the concept of the political absolute developed in this last work, since this concept problematizes any kind of exclusion and provides for political stability the strategic principle of increasing the number of decision-makers as much as possible. (shrink)
Spanish translation of Field, S. L. (2012). 'Democracy and the multitude: Spinoza against Negri'. Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, 59(131), 21-40. Translated by María Cecilia Padilla and Gonzalo Ricci Cernadas. Negri celebra una concepción de la democracia en la que los poderes concretos de los individuos humanos no se alienan sino que se agregan: una democracia de la multitud. Pero ¿cómo puede actuar la multitud sin alienar el poder de nadie? Para contestar esta dificultad, Negri explícitamente apela (...) a Spinoza. Sin embargo, en este trabajo, sostengo que la filosofía de Spinoza no respalda el proyecto de Negri. Por el contrario, argumento que la multitud spinozista evita la jerarquía interna por medio de la mediación de las instituciones políticas y no a pesar de ellas; de la misma manera, estas instituciones tampoco simplemente emanan de la multitud tal cual es, sino que estructuran, contienen y canalizan sus pasiones. En particular, las instituciones requeridas no son las de la democracia simple y directa. Puede ser que existan otros argumentos no spinozistas en los cuales Negri pueda basar su teoría, pero no puede defender legítimamente su concepción de la multitud democrática apelando a Spinoza. (shrink)
In The Democratic Soul, Aaron L. Herold argues that liberal democracy's current crisis—of extreme polarization, rising populism, and disillusionment with political institutions—must be understood as the culmination of a deeper dissatisfaction with the liberal Enlightenment. Major elements of both the Left and the Right now reject the Enlightenment's emphasis on rights as theoretically unfounded and morally undesirable and have sought to recover a contrasting politics of obligation. But this has re-opened questions about the relationship between politics and religion long thought (...) settled. To address our situation, Herold examines the political thought of Spinoza and Tocqueville, two authors united in support of liberal democracy but with differing assessments of the Enlightenment. Through an original reading of Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise, Herold uncovers the theological foundation of liberal democracy: a comprehensive moral teaching rehabilitating human self-interest, denigrating "devotion" as a relic of "superstition," and cultivating a pride in living, acting, and thinking for oneself. In his political vision, Spinoza articulates our highest hopes for liberalism, for he is confident such an outlook will produce both intellectual flourishing and a paradoxical recovery of community. But Spinoza's project contains tensions which continue to trouble democracy today. As Herold shows via a new interpretation of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the dissatisfactions now destabilizing democracy can be traced to the Enlightenment's failure to find a place for religious longings whose existence it largely denied. In particular, Tocqueville described a natural human desire for a kind of happiness found, at least partly, in self-sacrifice. Because modernity weakens religion precisely as it makes democracy stronger than liberalism, it permits this desire to find new and dangerous outlets. Tocqueville thus sought to design a "new political science" which could rectify this problem and which therefore remains indispensable today in recovering the moderation lacking in contemporary politics. (shrink)
This study considers freedom of speech and the rules of engagement in the public sphere; good government, civic responsibility, and public education; and the foundations of religion and society, as seen through the eyes of seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza.
El presente artículo se propone indagar el estatuto del miedo y sus declinaciones políticas en los pensamientos de Thomas Hobbes y Baruch Spinoza para interpretar su impacto en la democracia como un problema teórico político. Cuando se comparan a Hobbes y Spinoza, las interpretaciones predominantes, incluso aquellas que identifican algunas coincidencias respecto de los sentidos y efectos políticos de miedo, tienden a poner en primer plano las diferencias entre ambos. Sin embargo, la problematización de esta emoción es un punto de (...) partida para aproximarse a las teorías políticas de Hobbes y de Spinoza desde una óptica distinta. Con ese propósito, en una primera instancia, se repondrá, de manera sintética, la doctrina de los afectos de cada uno de los autores mencionados. Luego, se procederá a realizar una comparación entre dichas doctrinas, destacando un afecto en particular, el miedo. Finalmente, y es en esta sección donde se planteará el argumento central del artículo, se explotarán los corolarios de las conceptualizaciones del miedo de Hobbes y de Spinoza en relación con la política contemporánea. (shrink)
In this review, I propose that the core contribution of Skeaff's book is to supplement existing discourses of non-domination and agonistic politics with the distinctly Spinozist concept of immanent normativity. However, I question whether this immanent normativity is so clearly and efficaciously democratic as Skeaff presumes.
According to a recent interpretive orthodoxy, Spinoza is a profoundly democratic theorist of state authority. I reject this orthodoxy. To be sure, for Spinoza, a political order succeeds in proportion as it harnesses the power of the people within it. However, Spinoza shows that political inclusion is only one possible strategy to this end; equally if not more useful is political exclusion, so long as it maintains what I call the depoliticised acquiescence of those excluded.
Contemporary political theory has increasingly attended to the inevitability, and even advantage, of hypocrisy in liberal democratic politics, but less consideration has been given to the social and psychological repercussions of this ubiquitous phenomenon. This article recovers Baruch Spinoza and Pierre Bayle’s critiques of hypocritical conformity to demonstrate that their influential theories of toleration and freedom were shaped considerably by concerns with enforced conformity. Reframing Spinoza and Bayle as theorists of hypocrisy, moreover, suggests that recent redemptive accounts of hypocrisy in (...) political theory overlook deeper and arguably more discerning anxieties about a politics characterized by hypocrisy, specifically the deleterious effects of social mistrust and psychological distress. (shrink)
Abstract: Reflecting on the practice of being a Spinoza scholar and Spinozist in Trump's Pandemic America, I argue that we can find consolation in Spinoza's insistent norm -- to understand rather than to blame, to banish free will as explanans so we can fully understand the explanandum. Just as Boethius reflected on human misunderstanding of luck, so Spinoza teaches that we need, in moments of despair, to look not to superstition, but to the recognition of the causal forces that yield (...) our triumphs and failures, and to understand them. While we are unmoored in the chaos of Trump's America, in the joyful expression of popular emancipatory power in the Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations and marches through American cities and suburbs, and the nightly horror of demonstrators murdered by police, I reach back to another moment of chaos with liberatory and nightmarish potential -- the years just after the U.S. Civil War described in Leaves of Grass. We can find Spinozist moments in Whitman's poem and philosophical memoir -- a kind of American Spinozism. As he travels among the horrors and the new possibilities of American life, Whitman insists on seeing and feeling the world as it is -- terrible, wonderful, in all its fleshy imperfection, while finding hope in these same flawed particulars. In 2020, Trump's America, Spinoza and Spinozism are not just relevant, are not just consolations in the Boethian sense, but they are essential epistemic survival tools for a world quite obviously in motion. (shrink)
I argue that both Hobbes and Spinoza rely on a pivot epicurean idea to form their conceptions of the social contract, namely, the idea that the human acts by calculating their utility. However, Hobbes and Spinoza employ this starting principle in different ways. For Hobbes, this only makes sense if the calculation of utility is regulated by fear as the primary political emotion. For Spinoza, there is no primary emotion and the entire construction of the social contract relies on how (...) the calculation of utility is carried out. I argue that this conception of the social contract leads Spinoza to espouse a radical position about the political, which has been overlooked by those like Antonio Negri who read Spinoza as a radical democrat. (shrink)
Naturalism and Democracy, first published in German in 2014, presents a long-awaited commentary on Spinoza’s Political Treatise (Tractatus politicus). It gives a detailed analysis of Spinoza’s latest theory of State and Law, with special attention to his democratic approach.
Entre las teorías de Thomas Hobbes y Baruch de Spinoza hay destacadas coincidencias y también importantes diferencias. Inician y revelan cambios en la teoría y la práctica políticas que ocurren en corto espacio de tiempo pero que son decisivos. Antecesores del positivismo, ambos compartieron bases ontológicas y metodológicas, lo que suele interpretarse, por razones cronológicas, como una influencia de Hobbes en Spinoza. Las diferencias entre ambos versan sobre el sentido de la religión en relación con su papel en la política; (...) las relaciones entre la revelación divina, la ley y la razón naturales y el orden moral; el iusnaturalismo como fundamento del sistema jurídico-político; el sentido y contenido del contrato social como fundamento de la obligación civil. Todas estas divergencias conducen a la más importante de todas, y es que Hobbes se enroca en un absolutismo que desconoce los derechos de la conciencia, mientras que Spinoza se erige en defensor del fuero interno. (shrink)
This paper develops the implications of Spinoza’s invocation in chapter 6 of the traditional analogy between the oikos and the polis. Careful attention to this analogy reveals a number of interesting features of Spinoza’s political theory. Spinoza challenges the perception that absolute monarchy offers greater respite from the intolerable anxiety of the state of nature than does democracy. He acknowledges that people associate monarchical rule with peace and stability, but asserts that it can too easily deform its subjects. Unchallenged monarchy (...) may be credited with a certain order, “but if slavery, barbarism, and desolation are to be called peace, there can be nothing more wretched for mankind than peace.” This is all familiar to friends of Spinoza, but what kind of democracy is the alternative to those monarchies that tend toward despotism? It is a form of association that, he suggests, resembles a bitterly quarrelsome but nevertheless virtuous family. Thus, he admits that democratic, or popular, rule is typically turbulent and disorderly, but urges his reader to view contentions and disputes as a kind of salutary discord that preserves rather than threatens virtue. (shrink)
In this pathbreaking work, Christopher Skeaff argues that a profoundly democratic conception of judgment is at the heart of Spinoza’s thought. Bridging Continental and Anglo-American scholarship, critical theory, and Spinoza studies, Becoming Political offers a historically sensitive, meticulous, and creative interpretation of Spinoza’s texts that reveals judgment as the communal element by which people generate power to resist domination and reconfigure the terms of their political association. If, for Spinoza, judging is the activity which makes a people powerful, it is (...) because it enables them to contest the project of ruling and demonstrate the political possibility of being equally free to articulate the terms of their association. This proposition differs from a predominant contemporary line of argument that treats the people’s judgment as a vehicle of sovereignty—a means of defining and refining the common will. By recuperating in Spinoza’s thought a “vital republicanism,” Skeaff illuminates a line of political thinking that decouples democracy from the majoritarian aspiration to rule and aligns it instead with the project of becoming free and equal judges of common affairs. As such, this decoupling raises questions that ordinarily go unasked: what calls for political judgment, and who is to judge? In Spinoza’s vital republicanism, the political potential of life and law finds an affirmative relationship that signals the way toward a new constitutionalism and jurisprudence of the common. (shrink)
Can we ever have politics without the noble lie? Can we have a collective political identity that does not exclude or define ‘us’ as ‘not them’? In the Ethics, Spinoza argues that individual human emotions and imagination shape the social world. This world, he argues, can in turn be shaped by political institutions to be more or less hopeful, more or less rational, or more or less angry and indignant. In his political works, Spinoza offered suggestions for how to shape (...) a political imaginary and create collective identities that are more guided by hope than by fear or anger. In this talk, using the framework of Spinoza's theory of emotions, I will investigate how Barack Obama's promise of 'hope' was translated into Donald Trump's rhetoric of hate. Such a transition, from hope to fear is one that would be unsurprising to Spinoza. Spinoza worried about the political and personal effectiveness of hope. He argued that hope can easily be turned into what he called ‘indignatio’ or indignation – an emotion that he believed eroded trust in political institutions and was the limit of state power. Spinoza warned about the danger of governance that relies upon the emotions of anger and hatred. In the Ethics, Spinoza painstakingly reconstructs the way in which individual emotions, ideas and motivations are shaped within social worlds. He argued that emotions based on pain, including hatred and indignation, diminish the power of the individuals who experience them and the political collective in which those individuals reside. Anger, fear and indignation weaken the state. In the second section of the paper, I will set out how the Trump administration’s reliance on the motivational forces of hate and anger risk what Spinoza called indignation. Trump's reliance on exclusionary conceptions of American identity have fanned the flames of racial, ethnic and religious hatred to motivate his base have had widespread social and political effects. I will offer arguments and examples which bear out the Spinozan worries about the effects of anger and indignation on the political and the social. Spinoza’s political works were written not just to explain the worries about an angry and indignant multitude, but also to show how to turn political indignation and anger into a chastened, and perhaps more rational, hope. Finally, I will propose that we may derive from Spinoza participatory, democratic institutions and collective identities that can overcome this indignation. (shrink)
Spinoza's political thought has been subject to a significant revival of interest in recent years. As a response to difficult times, students and scholars have returned to this founding figure of modern philosophy as a means to help reinterpret and rethink the political present. Spinoza's Authority Volume I: Resistance and Power in Ethics makes a significant contribution to this ongoing reception and utilization of Spinoza's political thought by focusing on his Ethics. By taking the concept of authority as an original (...) framework, this books asks: How is authority related to ethics, ontology, and epistemology? What are the social, historical and representational processes that produce authority and resistance? And what are the conditions of effective resistance? -/- Spinoza's Authority features a roster of internationally established theorists of Spinoza's work, and covers key elements of Spinoza's political philosophy, including: questions of authority, the resistance to authority, sovereign power, democratic control, and the role of Spinoza's "multitudes". (shrink)
Spinoza's political thought has been subject to a significant revival of interest in recent years. As a response to difficult times, students and scholars have returned to this founding figure of modern philosophy as a means to help reinterpret and rethink the political present. Spinoza's Authority Volume II makes a significant contribution to this ongoing reception and utilization of Spinoza's 1670s Theologico-Political and Political treatises. By taking the concept of authority as an original framework, this books asks: How is authority (...) related to law, memory, and conflict in Spinoza's political thought? What are the social, historical and representational processes that produce authority and resistance? And what are the conditions of effective resistance? Spinoza's Authority Volume II features a roster of internationally established theorists of Spinoza's work, and covers key elements of Spinoza's political philosophy. (shrink)
Spinoza’s ‘multitude’, while a key concept of his political philosophy, allows us to better understand Spinoza’s work both in its historical context and as a systematic unity. In this piece, I will propose that we understand Spinoza’s concept of the ‘multitude’ in the context of the development of his political thought, in particular his reading and interpretation of Thomas Hobbes, for whom ‘multitude’ was indeed a technical term. I will show that Spinoza develops his own notion of multitude as an (...) interpretive extension of Hobbes’s concept. Spinoza’s notion of ‘multitude’ is shaped by the new answers he gives to the Hobbesian questions about the human power, human emotion and the metaphysical-political questions of how individuals can become a whole, or a state. (shrink)
Baruch Spinoza is one of the most influential and controversial political philosophers of the early modern period. Though best-known for his contributions to metaphysics, Spinoza’s _Theological-Political Treatise_ and his unfinished _Political Treatise_ were widely debated and helped to shape the political writings of philosophers as diverse as Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, and even Locke. In addition to its enormous historical importance, Spinoza’s political philosophy is also strikingly contemporary in its advocacy of toleration of unpopular religious and political views and his (...) concern with stabilizing religiously diverse democratic societies. The first Guidebook to Spinoza’s political writings, _The Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza on Politics_ covers the following key points: Spinoza’s life and the background to his philosophy the key themes and arguments of the _Theological-Political-Treatis_e and _Political Treatise _ the continuing importance of Spinoza’s work to philosophy. This book is an ideal starting point for anyone new to Spinoza and essential reading for students of political philosophy and seventeenth-century philosophy. (shrink)
Spinoza is the great philosopher of the imagination and the first great philosopher of democracy. Rather than seeing democracy as a form of government that has overcome the need for imagination and symbols, he shows in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus that an enlightened state depends on three myths: the myth of the sovereignty of the people so as to reconcile democracy as rule by the people with each individual living as he or she wants to live; the myth that we are (...) a people, emotionally and morally tied to some people more than to others; and, finally, the myth that the people comprises individuals who are responsible for their own destinies. The democratic imagination differs from earlier forms of politics in that the people construct the social imaginary for themselves and are guided by it without deception. It is the social imaginary thus created, or these three myths, that make room for freedom of thought and therefore for democracy. (shrink)
On many interpretations of Spinoza’s political philosophy, democracy emerges as his ideal type of government. But a type of government can be ideal and yet it can be unwise to implement it if certain background conditions obtain. For example, a dominion’s people can be too ‘wretched by the conditions of slavery’ to rule themselves. This begs the following question. Do Spinoza’s arguments for democracy entail that all political bodies should be democracies at all times (the received view), or do they (...) merely entail that we should only have a democracy when the right sort of background conditions are in place (the challenging view)? This paper argues that a new interpretation of one of the four versions of the rationality argument for democracy as it features in the Tractatus entails that the received view is correct. The paper also explains away part of the appeal of the challenging view by arguing that none of the other versions of the rationality argument supports the received view. It closes by arguing that a slightly modernised version of the rationality argument can be important for contemporary political philosophy. (shrink)
Negri celebrates a conception of democracy in which the concrete powers of individual humans are not alienated away, but rather are added together: this is a democracy of the multitude. But how can the multitude act without alienating anyone’s power? To answer this difficulty, Negri explicitly appeals to Spinoza. Nonetheless, in this paper, I argue that Spinoza’s philosophy does not support Negri’s project. I argue that the Spinozist multitude avoids internal hierarchy through the mediation of political institutions and not in (...) spite of them; nor do these institutions merely emanate from the multitude as it is, but rather they structure, restrain and channel its passions. In particular, the required institutions are not those of a simple direct democracy. There may be other non-Spinozist arguments on which Negri can ground his theory, but he cannot legitimately defend his conception of the democratic multitude by appeal to Spinoza. (shrink)
Deze korte studie biedt niet de zoveelste inleiding in het denken van Spinoza, maar doet verslag van de persoonlijke, vijfentwintig jaar durende zoektocht om de vaak moeilijke thema's van Spinoza onder de knie te krijgen. Om via Spinoza's filosofie meer te begrijpen van de wereld en van het eigen leven. Om de vreugde te ervaren die dit verbeterde inzicht, in oorzaken en gevolgen, en ook in de eigen beperktheid, ons biedt. Elk hoofdstuk gaat over een onderwerp dat de auteur bijzonder (...) aanspreekt. Bestaat er een levenswil, Spinoza's conatus, die mensen voort doet leven ook onder de meest bittere omstandigheden? Is kennis en inzicht gradueel van aard? Wat is het verschil tussen adequate en inadequate kennis van de oorzaken van ons handelen? Hoe ontwikkelt een machtsstaat zich tot een rechtsstaat? (shrink)
Through an examination of his remarks on Genesis, chapters 2–3, I will demonstrate that Spinoza’s argument for sexual inequality is not only an aberration,but a symmetrical inversion of a view he propounds, albeit implicitly, in his Ethics. In particular, “the black page” of his Political Treatise ignores, along with the intellectual capacities of women, the immeasurable benefits of affectionate partnership between a man and a woman that he extols in his retelling of the Genesis narrative. If the doctrine of the (...) black page maintains that it is the dependency of wives upon their husbands that explains their weakness and justifies their exclusion from formal roles in politics, his unusual narrative of the Fall illustrates that it is precisely Adam's lack of appreciation of his need for his wife that accounts for his imbecility. (shrink)
In this paper I pursue this question of the nature of a possible relationship between imagination and the force/violence particular to human law throughSpinoza's analysis of the prophetic imagination in the Tractatus-Theologico Politic us. My principal concern is to trace the relationship between the history and laws of the Hebrew nation and Spinoza's analysis of the imagination of Moses.
As a contribution to the commemorations of Spinoza's death, this article describes in a few pages the significance of Spinoza in the evolution of Western political thought. Especially in his Political Treatise, Spinoza attempted to elaborate a «scientific» theory of political life, i.e. a closing deductive theory based upon a «true knowledge of the causes and natural bases» of human actions and passions. In his view it can be proved with a rational necessity that democracy - defined as Spinoza defines (...) it - is the best political regime. He strongly emphasizes that democracy and, consequently, a well organized and efficiently functioning life in common, is impossible without real freedom of opinion and speech and a political «neutralization» of religion. (shrink)